Pre-Hunt Season: Gaining Knowledge & Gear

Forty-three days and a wake-up. That is how long I have to wait for opening day of archery deer season, which I have taken off of work, in order to spend some quality time in one of my three blinds; just G-d, nature, me, and hopefully some deer. I feel positive that this year is my year for finally harvesting a buck. After my epic fail with Threeper, the buckling last year, I won’t be so aesthetically choosy.

Yet, even with over a month of wait time, there are still tasks to accomplish in preparation. Today I am scent-free washing the camo slacks and top I wore during spring turkey season, along with some accoutrements such as face masks, my backpack, and gloves. Granted, turkey season ended a while ago; but I had hung my clothes up over the shower rod to make sure any and all ticks died away before I handled the clothes again. I loathe ticks. Unfortunately; here in Kansas, they seem to love me. Just yesterday I was out in the woods checking my Moultrie game cameras, wearing long sleeves, long pants, long socks, long gloves and having sprayed my clothes down with Deep Woods Off, with DEET, to minimize tick encounters. Despite all of that, I felt an uncomfortable tickle on my stomach just below my bra. Lifting my shirt up, for the world to see (had the world been on the dirt road with me), revealed a big tick seeking a bosom to nourish from…. I quickly dispatched his nastiness back into the woods, away from me!

This morning, while enjoying a breakfast of brown eggs and store-bought salmon, I watched an episode of North Woods Law (I love that show). It highlighted a threesome of siblings heading out on a turkey hunt and mentioned the safety fact that one should not wear red during hunting season. That reminded me that until I had recently taken the turkey hunting clinic, sponsored by the Flint Hills Gobblers chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, I did not know that important bit of information. Not that I can imagine myself choosing red as a good camouflage color for hunting, but it is valuable information to have for, say, checking game cameras during spring turkey season. My prior thought would have been that red, like orange, would identify me to any hunters in the area. Not having had any real knowledge about a male turkey’s anatomy, however, I would not have considered that red might identify me to a hunter as a turkey’s caruncle.

Upon further reflection this morning, I realized there are a lot of important facts about hunting that late-bloomer hunters like me may not know. I suppose if I read every page of every hunting magazine I have collected over the years I may have far more information than I do. But you just don’t know what you don’t know; and hands-on learning, for me anyway, provides a higher level of retention than simply reading magazines.

For instance; field dressing a deer, turkey, or even a squirrel cannot be sufficiently explained in written word. For me, even videos, which I find more helpful than articles on the subject, are not as thorough as the act of field dressing. I have certainly picked up pointers through visual and auditory learning (reading is actually considered auditory because we tend to hear the words in our head as we read them); but nothing has “learned me some skills” like standing at the tailgate of my truck (or kneeling on the ground for a deer), knife in hand, with a creature carcass before me.

The same holds true for calling in game. I have read many articles and followed the guidelines step by step for setting up mock scrapes, calling in animals, using rattles and box calls; and yet sometimes some things work and sometimes not. Trial and error have been the best educators in my hands-on hunt school. For instance, in the episode of North Woods Law that I watched this morning; the hunting siblings described how spring turkey hunting requires being up before dawn and in the blind prior to the turkeys having the potential to spy the hunter. Yet my only experience with successful turkey harvesting has been during the day. My autumn hen was harvested in the afternoon as she and her flock passed through my hunting area, and I wasn’t even hunting turkey, I was hunting deer. My Tom happened to be hanging out 30-40 yards from my blind one evening, and failed to leave the area when I walked in and sat down in my blind. Granted, it took an hour to call him in, but he was already there. And I had chosen to hunt on a whim after work. The sagest statement I heard at the turkey hunting clinic was, “Turkeys will do what turkeys do.” In other words, like any other animals I’ve hunted, turkeys aren’t reading the magazines and manuals; they are doing whatever they want, unpredictably.

Yesterday as I approached the opening to the woods where my deep-woods blind is located, I saw the local flock of hens passing in front of my game camera. They were on the move, having likely heard my truck door close, but I chose not to enter the area so I could watch them instead. Had I been hunting, my harvest would have been at about 9:00 a.m. Hunters whom I work with, who have been hunting far longer than I, have shared their belief that it’s too hot out currently for deer to be moving about during the day. Yet my game cameras show them in the mid-morning, noon, and early evening, as well as under cover of darkness. When I hunt on September 12th, I hope the deer continue to follow the trails past my blind, regardless of the temperature (although I will be seated in my blind before dawn, just in case).

Next weekend I will be driving the two-hour trek to Cabela’s in Kansas City to get some gear and such. To be honest I already have what I need, more than what I need. But I love a sale, and my philosophy regarding hunting gear is to buy it after the season ends, or during pre-season sales, just in case I don’t like what I bought, or am trying something new. Today at Walmart, I found the sale section for spring turkey gear, calls and such, so bought a package of mouth calls from Mossy Oak; Turkey Thugs – The Teacher. It comes with two mouth pieces and a mini DVD to teach calling. I suck at using mouth calls, but I really want to learn to use them. I would not have paid full price for this training aid, but $5 was a great deal; especially if it works and I’m able to learn how to call.

Kansas deer tags are not yet for sale, but once they are I’ll be first in line to buy mine. I liken the pre-season as being like the month or two leading up to Christmas. The excitement builds as the preparation commences. Unlike Christmas, however, which culminates in one grand day, hunting season keeps on for weeks, sometimes months (like deer season), and you never know when the gift is arriving.

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On Becoming a Kansan

It’s a beautiful, albeit humid, summer Saturday in Kansas. This morning my labbie-girl, Daisy, and I headed out fairly early for Milford Lake in order to do some fishing before the temperature got too hot. Personally, I don’t like hot summers but will stay outside if I’m having fun despite my discomfort. Daisy, however, has a thick coat of yellow Labrador fur which keeps her heated up even when the temperature hasn’t reached uncomfortable for sweating bipeds.

While it seemed the fish opted to ignore my bait all morning, I still enjoyed the beauty of my surroundings. The lake was fuller than when I last visited (just last weekend, I think), so the water lapped against the rocks as boats passed by, creating a hypnotic, relaxing sound. The sky was a brilliant shade of blue, dappled with puffy white clouds here and there. On the shore across the inlet from me I could hear a heron screeching for fish, and at one point a fisherman aboard a small watercraft yelling for all to hear that he had “big Bertha” on the line.

Although I believe the personal is political (a modicum of sense from my days as a Liberal), I endeavor not to mix politics with my outdoor adventure writing. They are connected to me, but separate to most.  But recently I have been thoughtful about living in Kansas since reading Flyover Nation last weekend (written by Dana Loesch). The book is a perusal of what makes the Heartland, a.k.a. Flyover Nation, special from the coasts. It focuses primarily on the politics of Flyover Nation as opposed to the East and West coasts, yet I suspect Ms. Loesch recognizes the personal as political as well. Whereas folks in the Heartland may be Democrat or Republican, they tend to share similar values with regard to religion and faith, caring for and living from the land, and embracing the spirit of the second amendment.

I have known for quite some time that I enjoy living in Kansas, being a transplant to the area for my job working with soldiers who have substance abuse issues. My roots are Californian (San Francisco-Bay Area), and much of my adult life has been lived in Florida (Orlando), so I’ve got legitimate Coastie energy, but I have also lived down South (the real south, not the Florida version)  and spent time in Ohio. All in all, I think I’m an acceptable blend of environments and ideologies. Reading Flyover Nation clarified for me, however, how much I have become a Kansan, and how I have grown into myself, found myself, since moving here in 2011.

Kansas re-introduced me to fishing; something my father and I did when I was a child, but that I walked away from for decades. It is in Kansas where I finally fulfilled my desire to hunt; having now spent two, almost three, years filling my autumn mornings and evenings with deer hunting and turkey hunting, and turkey hunting again in spring. I’ve grown from a wimpy disabled chick, to a crossbow wielding, rifle toting hunter; from a designated hiking trail gal to a woman excited to spend hours in the woods pretending to be a bush or tree; from a environmentalist attending Earth Day festivals to a conservationist having real-life encounters with deer, coyotes, turkeys, and myriad other woodland creatures (including ticks). And I’ve gone from a suburban grocery store shopper to a rural harvester of much of my animal protein, be it an assortment of Kansas fish (which I gut and prepare myself), or Kansas game which I harvest, field dress, and cook myself. Very important as well; my spiritual encounters with animals aren’t just in meditations anymore – they’re up close and personal. I’ve written previously that my connection to G-d has grown in my time outdoors; and though I’m spiritual and not religious (perhaps part of my coastal upbringing), my faith has been nurtured by my presence in G-d’s natural creation. Being in nature lets me re-create myself. After-all, isn’t that what recreation is all about…?

Though my position as an Army civilian affords me some fluidity in my career, I have come to realize that Kansas is now my home. I am a Heartlander; an American by birth, and a Kansan by the grace of G-d. I don’t think I could ever return to the concrete jungle. There is no art in a museum more beautiful than a Kansas sunset, or more breathtaking than being hidden five feet away from an 8-point buck or seven feet away from wild coyotes who want to walk on the berm I’m sitting atop while hunting.

My labbie-girl and I went fishing yesterday and today and walked away without a single fish. But the experience of being connected to the water and the land far exceeds the momentary thrill of having a fish on the line (yet having that struggle while reeling in is an awesome experience). Weekends were made for fishing, and I will continue to pursue aquatic game… until September 12th, when archery deer season begins!

Fishing for Independence

By the time you read this, it will likely be Independence Day – tomorrow is the 4th of July. The Independence Day weekend this year is a four-day weekend, at least for those of us blessed to be Army civilians. And I’ve spent two of the four days out at the lake fishing.

In my four-plus years in Kansas, I’ve gone out fishing at Milford Lake only a handful of times; most of my fishing has been done on post, because I almost always catch fish on post and seldom catch anything out at Milford Lake. Even last weekend when my son was visiting, post-deployment, and we rented a boat for four hours; I didn’t catch a thing (although my son did catch a 15” goldeneye shad). Great memories were created though, so I decided to venture out to the lake this weekend to soak up some of the ambience.

Yesterday I spent a beautiful three hours in solitude, with just my labbie-girl and two fishing poles. My bait consisted of worms and chicken liver, and I used the set up my son and I had fished last from the boat; a worm hook and a weighted bobber. It’s ironic that my son, Dare, and I used lures galore on our boating adventure and the only thing he caught his fish with was a live worm, with a bobber. I suppose if one is fishing for something specific, than using a specific lure and fishing style is best. But nothing works like the old tried and true worm; and out at the lake, I rather enjoy the surprise of not knowing what I will harvest.

Initially I caught a sunfish, which I released and then a bluegill, which I kept. My fishing ended with a goldeneye shad about as big as my son’s. It was so peaceful and relaxing in the secluded spot I found that I decided to return again today. It was a gloriously overcast day (both days were) with light rain sprinkles on occasion, and cool breezes. I came to realize today that the air temperature was considerably cooler than the water temperature, after I waded out into the water to rescue my bobbers and hooks, which had gotten caught on the rocky lake bottom. Thank goodness for fishing slacks; the kind that unzip at the knees and become shorts, and dry very quickly.

Upon arrival, I had videographed myself with my tablet camera, and posted on Facebook how I enjoyed being alone, and felt the need to have some more quiet alone time in nature. While walking (sliding on the slippery rocks, really) back to shore from my waist level wade on my bobber rescue mission, I saw three people walking down the hill toward my spot, and heard the woman up front call out, “Is that you, Sara?”

What are the chances that someone I know would choose the very same spot to fish at the very same time I’m there…? It doesn’t seem to me that I really know all that many people here in Kansas; but I guess that’s part of the charm of living in Podunk. Given that Milford Lake covers 24.71 square miles, I can only acknowledge the inclusion of someone I know into my nature space as an intervention of a spiritual nature. Perhaps I was being a bit too “emo” even for G-d.

My first hour of fishing today had brought a sense of calm, but no fish. In no time at all, Tara (my acquaintance) and her bestie, also named Sara (maybe with a letter H), had reeled in a catfish. Tara seems to enjoy fishing; but does not enjoy eating fish, so they offered me the channel cat in lieu of releasing it. I subscribe to the Ted Nugent form of fishing; catch and eat, so I planted a big kiss on the catfish’s lips for luck, and placed it on my stringer. Luck be a lady, which Tara’s fish had been (she had a sack of eggs I found out later when I gutted her); not 30 minutes later I too caught a catfish! Both were 17” as I discovered once home.

The remainder of my time out fishing was more like a charity dinner; feeding the fish who grabbed my worms but not my hook, seasoned with intermittent conversation with my fellow fishermen… fisherpeople… fisherwomen. I’ve never been big on the sexist labeling of men and women. I just consider myself a hunter and a fisherman. When the worms were gone, my labbie-girl and I called it a day and headed home, two channel cat richer for the effort.

In the U. States we celebrate Independence Day to remember our sovereignty, hard won during the Revolutionary War with Great Britain. But I like to recognize my individual independence in the act of harvesting my own food; fish from the lakes and ponds, and mammals from the woods. To me, nothing says freedom like self-reliance sculpted with the tools of harvesting; fishing poles, crossbows and firearms.